Where there's festival muck, there's brass

As Glastonbury tickets go on sale, retailers are rushing to cash in with high-fashion camping accessories
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The Independent Online

And so it begins. At 9am today, bleary-eyed youths and ageing ravers started repeated and increasingly desperate attempts to secure their three days in the mud of the world's best-known open-air music event. With the opening of Glastonbury's ticket office, festival mania is back.

In the coming months, hundreds of thousands of people are likely to find themselves stumbling about in knee-high mud, eating under-cooked falafel and failing to sleep in a newly bought tent pitched inexpertly (and, of course, listening to some of today's most popular bands at one of the burgeoning number of music festivals held across the UK). Meanwhile marketing executives, ever eager to spot an opportunity, are cashing in.

Major festivals, including Glastonbury, Reading, Leeds, Womad, T in the Park and the V Festivals, are worth more to the UK economy than ever, with conservative estimates of their total worth ranging from £150m to £200m. Hundreds of "boutique" and smaller festivals could easily double that sum.

Among the firms keen to exploit this growing market is the cut-price catalogue retailer Argos, which has put together a "festival survival kit" to promote its wares. Traditional camping-gear sellers like Millets, meanwhile, have updated their ranges to capture new, young buyers, inviting Sixties style icon Celia Birtwell to design a tent for this year's "season". And if swirly kitsch isn't your bag, an urban alternative by clubber's label Hed Kandi is also available.

Even Hunter Boot, traditionally associated with the shooting and fishing classes, has come out with a new range of brightly coloured, cut-off Wellingtons, named Hunter Festivals. The range is intended to capitalise on hype surrounding the appearance of the model Kate Moss at Glastonbury last year, in a traditional pair of the boots and denim hotpants.

Just two years ago Hunter Boot was close to going out of business, but after a buy-out, the company has prospered, thanks in part to heavy rain during the major music festivals.

Malcolm Cannon, the firm's chief executive, said: "They [festivals] are tremendously important. It's offered us the opportunity to market our products at different times of the year."

Moss is one of a string of stars, including Gwyneth Paltrow and Lily Allen, who have helped turn the once-derided footwear of choice for the "green-welly brigade" into a fashion accessory.

Such is the importance of festivals to his firm that Mr Cannon, 46, and "slightly past it" in festival-going terms, will be attending Glastonbury to promote the new range.

A spokeswoman for Millets, which has an extensive range of festival-themed products, said the face of British camping had changed dramatically. "You don't have to have a dull brown or army-looking tent, you can have a nice glam one," she said. "And we have a gold-coloured headtorch."

She was blunt about the interest shown by many companies in the festival market. "I think there's just so much money to be made in festivals and it's just a 'let's take a piece of this pie' kind of attitude," she said.

Argos is planning various marketing campaigns, including a competition to win its survival kit, made up of a 12-person tepee, a guitar, a solar shower, poncho, cheetah-print wellies and matching bag, among other glamping (the term coined for this newly glamorous camping) essentials.

However, there are clear signs that over-commercialisation is beginning to grate on some. Vince Power, who founded the Mean Fiddler venue and ran Reading Festival until 2005, has created a one-day festival headlined by Neil Young and Primal Scream at Hop Farm in Kent, designed to get away from the sponsorship, branding and VIP areas that are de rigueur at other events. "We have got a tremendous response from the customer, I get emails all the time, saying we really want this and really appreciate it," he said.

"Generally it's younger people who go to festivals, 18- to 25-year-olds. They haven't really been looked after, they are just an after-thought."